It’s been far too long a wait. Eleven years is almost one generation in terms of tennis and that’s actually what it’s been. India is finally back in the World Group and it took a new rising force in our tennis to take over the responsibility that Leander Paes has shouldered for so long.
Expectation, though, can never really match the reality of the actual moment. We all probably intended to wax eloquent when the wait finally ended as Somdev Devvarman pulled off a comeback from two sets down to win India’s longest Davis Cup rubber ever.
But all we could do was scream and jump around like a bunch of excited kids. We hugged the breath out of the poor fellow and no one really said anything too profound, there was just sheer joy on display as the team went into celebratory overdrive. I remember Mahesh (Bhupathi) gushing: “Holy cow! Eleven long years! It just feels so great. This kid has come in and done great!”
The euphoria continued into the locker room and an adrenaline-fuelled Som hardly appeared a man who had just played for a stress-filled four hours and 44 minutes. After Yuki’s (Bhambri) match we all rushed to the airport to catch our flight and Som had hardly any time to go through his usual post-match recovery routine. However, we all did manage to find the time to give Yuki a quick dunk in the hotel pool to celebrate his first win. The more elaborate initiation rite awaits the return of Leander to the team.
We were shocked at the reception we got when we walked off the plane at Delhi. The Hindustan Times had carried Som’s picture on the front page and the immigration officer happened to have a copy on his desk. After that, the poor fellow was mobbed. Tennis players are quite used to dour customs and immigration people, but when all these guys want a picture with our No. 1 player, it suddenly hits home that a new star has been born.
The reception got wilder as we stepped out of the official circle. The media circus outside was overwhelming. In all my years of involvement with Indian tennis, I have never seen such euphoria, such abandon in our welcome back from a successful tie.
For Som, the magnitude of his achievement has still not sunk in. As I write this, he is headed for an official press briefing at a Delhi hotel. He is kind of shell-shocked, bemused and has a silly grin pasted on his face. He’s always been a polite fellow but his smiling and grinning has gone into overdrive! Time for me to rush back into the fray and do some smiling and beaming of my own --- after all, it’s that kind of day.